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'Cuse Tales
Written August 1, 2014


Remember The Beverly Hillbillies?  In that 1960s TV show, a mountaineer family struck it rich.  Their kinfolk said "Californy is the place you oughta be," so they loaded up the truck and moved to Bever-lee.  Hills, that is.  Behind their new mansion, they discovered a swimming pool and called it a cee-ment pond.

I was in the state of New York this summer.  I described the first half of the trip in this article.  I noticed on the map that I’d be passing a small body of water labeled, believe it or not, Cement Pond.  It’s an overgrown fishing hole a couple of miles east of Jordan, New York, and it looks like this on Google Earth.

From what I can gather, it was once a limestone quarry alongside the Erie Canal, the remains of which are on the left edge of this picture.  There, from 1898 to 1923 in a hamlet called California, the American Cement Company made Portland cement that was needed for canal construction and repair.

But it was not to visit the Cement Pond that I had driven to this part of New York State.  I was on my way to the shores of Lake Onondaga and the city of Syracuse, the midpoint of my short vacation trip.


Once upon a time in Syracuse, young Archie decided to go down to the shore and watch the boats.  It was a sunny day.  He pretended the boats with their bright white sails were an invading armada, and he had to defend the city against them.  Now he happened to have with him a little bag of personal stuff.  There was a comb to straighten his already-receding hairline, but a comb would be of little use against a warship.  There was a twig to brush his teeth, but poking a boat with a twig would not be sufficient to sink it.  And there was a square of brass that had been highly polished to serve as a mirror.  Archie held the mirror at various angles and noticed it reflected sunlight off nearby objects.  He aimed the reflection at a boat and saw the sail brighten slightly.  Archie liked to think big.  “What if everybody in the city brought a mirror down here, and each of us aimed our sunlight at the same spot?  The sun’s rays would heat up the sail so much that it would burst into flame, and the boat would be destroyed!”  And that was when Archie Medes of Syracuse uttered his first “Eureka!” 

I received a master’s degree from Syracuse University in 1970.  For 35 years after that, I was a loyal alumnus, donating to the SU on a fairly regular basis.

That stopped in 2005.  I explained why in this letter.  The University was making millions by teaching a thoroughly discredited scam called Facilitated Communication, or FC, in which an adult “helps” her non-communicative child by holding his fingers over a keyboard.  The resulting typed messages come from the mind of the adult, of course, though she desperately wants to believe they come from the mind of her child.  A severely autistic child is no more responsible for such messages than is a planchette on a Ouija board.  The chief proponent of this fraudulent technique was Dr. Douglas Biklen.  When Syracuse rewarded him by making him a Dean, I stopped my donations.

This new decade has brought a few changes.  First, Dr. Biklen’s “Facilitated Communication Institute” at Syracuse changed its name in 2010 to the “Institute on Communication and Inclusion,” or ICI.

The new name “represents a broadened focus developed over the past 20 years, reflecting lines of research, training and public dissemination that focus on school and community inclusion, narratives of disability and ability, and disability rights — as well as research and training on facilitated communication.”

So they’re still promoting FC.  They’ve just hidden its name behind their more reputable missions.

Next, Dean Biklen stepped down as the director of the ICI in 2012, at the age of 66.  He was replaced by Professor Christine Ashby.

Then in January of 2014, he retired altogether.  But his legacy continues, so I continue to withhold my donations.

Here are some comments I’ve found on the Internet about the activities at Syracuse.  First, from the Institute on Communication and Inclusion itself:

The ICI provides training at all levels, including introductory workshops and technical assistance for families and professionals new to supported typing, skills enhancement for those who will coach or train others using facilitated communication, and “Master Trainer” certification for those with the most developed professional skill in training and assisting in this method.  Come practice with us!  We are holding Open Hours in the ICI for individuals who type to communicate and their facilitators to practice their skills.

Next, from Dr. James Todd, a behavioral psychologist and university professor:

FC advocates are denialists of the highest order.  I have little confidence that most members of the FC community will accept the consensus of the scientists no matter how many studies are published showing what FC actually is and detailing how it fails.

Finally, from Kim Wombles, mother to three children on the autism spectrum:

One of my primary concerns in blogging, writing, and teaching is in spreading critical thinking skills.  I’ve spent nearly four years now writing against pseudoscience in the autism community, from anti-vaccine rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and sham treatments to even worse, dangerous treatments like industrial strength bleach and industrial mining chelators being given to children by their well-intentioned but woefully misinformed parents.

Over the last twenty-plus years, FC has stuck around, and Biklen’s institute at Syracuse University has gone through PR overhauls to obfuscate FC’s bad reputation and rebrand it.

Facilitated communication, with its softer, gentler approach couched in the politically correct language of inclusion and neurodiversity, has gained far too much ground in the online autism community.  It has been given the patina of credibility by the support of Biklen’s home university and many autism bloggers and major autism organizations — despite the overwhelming evidence against FC.

My dispute with the ICI didn’t stop me from driving around the campus on a Sunday morning in July 2014, revisiting sites I remembered from 44 years before.  Actually, driving around the campus was tricky, because many streets have become one-way.  It was a lot easier when I was walking around the campus as a student.

I stopped by the house on Miles Avenue where I once rented a room.  Surprisingly, it still looks the same as it did in 1970.  Here are two post-graduate views.  I took the one on the left in 1985, and the one on the right in 2014.  Some trees have grown, some have not, and the fireplug has been repainted in a more traditional hue.

My room was only half a mile from a small commercial district, where I watched Arlo Guthrie’s movie Alice’s Restaurant at the Westcott Theatre.  It was a mile away from the academic buildings on campus.  Farther away than that was Marshall Street, where I sometimes dined on the weekends.

I remember Marshall as a block of fast-food joints and other stores, as at the left.  It’s still there, but it’s been cleaned up, as shown below.

The street has been repaved, and it’s now one-way eastbound with diagonal parking on the north, leaving a more pedestrian-friendly sidewalk in front of the businesses.

I used to spend a lot of time walking, sometimes in the company of neighborhood dogs.  In a 1969 letter I described a stroll that a white dog and I took one Sunday.  The pooch apparently found romance along the way.

I’ll close with some more non-shaggy dog stories.  It’s probably because I don’t own a pet of my own that I remember these relatively rare canine encounters in detail.

The trek from my room to the campus, in the first 200 yards, took me past this fence around the corner on Lennox Avenue.  This photo is from my 2014 visit.  To me, the fence looks the same as it did 44 years ago.

In 1970, early one dark winter evening, there was a friendly German shepherd in this enclosure as I walked past it.  The dog greeted me by standing up on his hind legs and putting his forepaws on top of the fence.  I stopped to say hello, of course, and I laid one of my gloved hands on top of one of his paws.  He withdrew his paw and placed it on top of my hand.  I withdrew my hand and placed it on top of his paw.  He withdrew his paw and placed it on top of my hand.  We repeated this game a couple of times more, until I decided I should be on my way lest the homeowner yelled at me for messing with his pet.

One snowy afternoon, I decided to walk home via the scenic route through Thornden Park.  A stray dog came up to me, barking.  I kept walking.  I would have stopped to pet him had he not seemed so needy.  He kept barking insistently, and he got so close that he bumped my ankles.  Finally, as I reached the far side of the park, I stopped and turned around to stare at him.  He backed away, then came closer, then backed away again.  I thought he might lose interest, but he kept on barking at me.  I slowly slipped the toe of my right boot under several inches of snow and continued staring at the dog.  Suddenly I kicked my leg up, sending a geyser of snow at him.  He recoiled, but then he closed in again.  I turned and resumed walking.  But maybe the dog had finally gotten tired of me, because at the first intersection he turned left and started barking at the people on that street.

On another trip home, it was after dark, so I avoided the scenic route.  Somewhere along the way, another stray dog began following me.

This one followed me all the way to Miles Avenue, all the way onto the porch.  He would have gladly come inside had I not shut the door in his face.

I disappeared into my room in the back of the house, but he stayed on the porch, whining and barking to be let in, for probably 15 minutes.  I don’t know what the neighbors thought.

And then there was the cat.  This happened nearly ten years later, when I was working in Washington, Pennsylvania.  While strolling uptown to lunch, I often encountered this black cat and tried to interact with her.  She only stared back at me.  But one day when I returned from lunch, she came enthusiastically running up to me in the parking lot and tried to climb my leg.  Why the change in attitude?  Had she been abandoned by her owners?

She tried to follow me into the building, but I wouldn’t allow her in.  Later, another employee did pick her up and bring her inside.  As he carried her past my desk, the cat’s eyes met mine.  Was I the man of this “house”?  Would I be her protector?

Later still, the office manager came to tell me there was a cat in the lobby that refused to leave.  I discovered her comfortably lounging on the carpet.  Walking up behind her, I slipped both hands beneath her belly and picked her up.  When the manager opened the door, the cat realized what was happening and began struggling, kicking her legs to no avail.  I carried her outside, set her down on the concrete, and gave her a couple of whacks on the rump just to reinforce my message:  You can follow me home, but you can’t come in. 

If you had a-listened long time ago
You wouldn't be goin' from do' to do'.
I hear you knockin' but you can't come in.
I hear you knockin', go back where you been!



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